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|Cave of the Ancients: Part Two|
Previously on Energy Saga
Aang has another dream relating to energybending and learns a secret about one of his past lives. He goes with the rest of Team Avatar and scales the mountain, looking for the ever-elusive cave where Doru Kun's shrine lies. Once they reach the cave, the Avatar has a startling vision.
Chapter Fifteen: Cave of the Ancients: Part Two
Cave of the Ancients, 120 AG
Aang stood stunned and frozen in his tracks as the giant wolf glared at him. Aang could not tell its thoughts, but he had the feeling that this creature did not like him very much. Was this wolf some sort of protector of the cave? It would make sense, given that Aang had had to deal with spiritual energy, scrambled seismic sense and an untraceable location to get where he stood now. The cave was clearly well-protected, with an abundance of obstacles in the way of getting there. Was this another obstacle? Or was it simply some savage being who used the cave as a dwelling or hideout? Neither option was much better than the other. Either way, this thing was hostile. Now that Aang thought of it, he had seen this beast somewhere before. Yes...it was when he journeyed to the Spirit World from the Spirit Oasis and sought Koh, the Face Stealer. It had been lurking around outside his lair. Unlike the other nearby creatures, it still very much had its face. But now it was in the Physical World. What kind of thing would dwell in Koh's Realmn and the Cave of the Ancients?
All these thoughts were racing through Aang's head at breakneck speed, as he could barely think of more but the impending moment and his own safety. As the jaws of the wolf's humongous mouth opened wide, intimidating sharp teeth lining the edges and loud, raspy noise coming from within. Then, the wolf lunged forward and closed its mouth around Aang, who flinched, finally being able to move again – but too little, too late.
"Aang? Aang? AANG!"
The voice of his wife was now audible from behind him. The Avatar turned to see his wife, along with his other comrades, standing bewildered in the entrance to the cave. They seemed to be viewing him with surprise and concern, but showed no reaction to his being eaten by a giant wolf. Wait – if he was just eaten by a giant wolf, then why was he still standing here? He ought to have gone to the Spirit World to join his previous incarnations now. Aang turned back to the dark passageway that led into the cave. There was no wolf there now – nothing in his way. Had he imagined it? No, it was clearly real.
"Huh?" Aang turned to face the others again. "What happened? Where did the giant wolf go?"
"What giant wolf?" asked Ty Lee.
"The one that was right there," Aang snapped irritably, pointing to where the wolf had stood. "It almost ate me – I thought it actually did for a moment."
"Seriously Aang, you said this was important Avatar business and you dragged us all along. It is not the right time to be drinking cactus juice. I know from personal experience what that stuff can do to you."
"Stop acting like I'm crazy!" Aang yelled at Sokka irritably. "Come on – you all had to have seen that. Didn't you?"
Katara shook her head.
"No..." muttered Suki. Mai also shook her head.
"Of course not! I'm blind! You should know that by now."
"I didn't see it," Migo added. "But I believe that you did. The cave works in mysterious ways. Maybe this wolf was trying to tel you something."
"What could it have been trying to tell me?" Aang inquired aloud. He had calmed down substantially by now. "It did not seem to like my being here very much."
"Well, then maybe that's it," Sokka commented sarcastically. "He doesn't want you in this place. He wants you to leave."
Aang broke eye contact with the others and pondered this.
"If the wolf does not want you here, then its possible you're on the wrong track," Migo stated. "You're doing something you're not supposed to do. Perhaps you're here for the wrong reasons. Maybe we should go."
"No, we can't leave," Aang declared firmly. "We've come too far on this venture to simply walk away now. I'm not leaving until I know more about my past life and the significance of this place."
Migo was taken aback. This had clearly not been the decision he had hoped for. "Well, you are the Avatar. Lead the way."
Aang nodded. The others returned the nod and they marched into the darkness. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Migo, Suki, Toph, Ty Lee and Mai. Mai was a few paced behind the others, carefully trotting with her royal Fire Nation garments on. About thirty paces behind them, another woman in Fire Nation garments followed, unbeknownst to them, with a devilish smirk on her face.
An eery feeling had fallen upon them as they had begun to make their way through the cave. It was if they were being watched and judged with every step they took. Aang swore that he could hear voices now. These might possibly be the "whispers" that Brawki had told them about. Whomever designed this place the way it is clearly had some sort of mystical motive. For some reason, Aang was reminded of visiting the Southern Air Temple with Katara and Sokka.
Everything was pitch dark for a long while. Aang was forced to use firebending to ignite a small flame hovering above his palm to light the way forward as others crowded around him so they could see well in front of them. This was manageable, but quite the burden for him. If only Zuko had not been obligated to leave them. It was not easy doing this on his own for everyone – and it had to be done. Aang, Toph and Migo all had the option of using their Seismic Sense to guide them. On the other hand, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Ty Lee and Mai were all relying on him now. The light from the entrance to the cave was far behind them by now. Without the flickering beacon to guide them, they would be lost in total darkness.
Luckily the path did not branch out much at first. There was only one real way forward. The lane was wide and voluminous. The few off-shoots and tributaries turned into quick dead-ends which led one to go back and follow the main path once more. After a while – it could have been hours or merely several long minutes, for there was no concept of time in here and no sun to indicate it either – the path did seem to branch out a little more, though this did not pose a problem. Aang knew where he was going. He did not know why, he just...did. Perhaps Migo was wrong about the giant wolf and his "warning." Aang clearly was meant to come here – to visit his past life's monument – to discover his significance.
Ultimately, they reached a point where there was no need to use firebending anymore. Illuminated radiant blue crystals lined the ceiling and walls. Now the passage was visible to all. It was just like when Aang was in the Cave of Two Lovers long ago, although this place was about as different as could get from the Cave of Two Lovers, for all the similarities they may have. Here, the way forward came easily and the routes did not seem to be changing through earthbending or anything of the sort. Of course, nothing would surprise them about this place at this point.
After they were several hours deep on their hike into the Cave of the Ancients, everyone noticed the sudden and frequent alterations in the cave's landscape. All kinds of rock in all kinds of shape lay before them. Gemstones were shining in the light of the illuminated crystals. They passed pristine chambers, waterfalls and chasms. At last they came across some of the most out-of-place objects yet. There were statues and columns – neatly carved, in fact. It seemed absurd that anyone would ever build or construct in here. Perhaps it was a powerful earthbender at work.
Finally, there came a great chamber with what appeared to be a small city within it. There were buildings everywhere of different shapes and sizes. And at long last, Aang could see the shrine just ahead on the opposite edge of the chamber. Aang knew where it was naturally – there was no hassle in finding it. Perhaps it was the cave or perhaps it was his connection to his distant past life.
"Where did all these buildings come from?" Katara asked aloud to no one in particular. "Who would build in here?"
Sokka made a sarcastic remark in response, but Aang was not paying any attention to them. At last he had found the ornate shrine of Doru Kun. Nothing else going on in the moment mattered to him. He had gotten what he was looking for and it had been easy – almost too easy. Aang still had the vision of the Giant Wolf at the back of his mind. It made him wonder. Even though he was the Avatar, was he truly meant to be here? Was Doru Kun a responsible Avatar? Or was he more like Kuruk – not in touch with his duty to the world – and the Giant Wolf perhaps desiring to punish Aang for his past life's missteps the way Koh, the Face Stealer, had taunted him years ago about his past life's lover? Aang disregarded these thoughts and marched up to the shrine – it was no use worrying if he was already here. He ascended the frigid stone steps to a circular platform lined with columns, images and inscriptions. As the others followed close behind, the Avatar stared around himself, taking it all in at once.
"Okay, cool," Sokka remarked uncertainly. "So we're here. Now what?"
"Over there," Toph cried out, pointing to one side of the monument. "There's a sizable tablet over there. By it's shape, I think its important. You'll have to read what's on it yourself though."
Aang followed Toph's instructions. Although the chamber was lit up enough to see, he still had to use firebending to read the writing, since it was aged an difficult to make out. "Doru Kun, master swordsman, master earthbender, master firebender, master airbender, master waterbender, shall forever stand out among Avatars." In his heroism he saved the world from plunging into perpetual darkness by defeating the dreaded mystic, who possessed unheard of abilities capable of conquering whole armies single-handed and instigating fates worse than death. He freed us all from the one who could numb the body, disable all bending, torture the soul and embed unrivaled fear in the bravest of spirits. Only the Avatar himself would dare face this foe and he emerged victorious challenging all odds. At the end of his days as Avatar, Doru Kun did not die as others would. He merely disappeared from the world, his task complete and years later, the next Avatar had arrived."
Katara, Sokka, Migo, Suki, Toph, Mai and Ty Lee listened silently as Aang read aloud to them. After he finished he turned to face them. "Now I see why I was supposed to come here. Doru Kun fought an energybender. There's no mistaking it by the description it gave. It didn't say if he ever used it himself, but he certainly encountered it. Its certainly energybending that brought me here. I was meant to find this."
"But Avatar Doru Kun didn't live long enough ago to encounter energybenders," Katara told her husband uneasily. "He's old but he isn't that old – not by a long shot. They're from the time before the Avatar, remember?"
"It does sound like how he describes energybending, though," noted Ty Lee.
"What else could it be?" Aand inquired confidently. "This all makes sense now. This must have been what I dreamed about at the campsite at the base of the mountain. It had been an Avatar memory from one of my past lives – just like when I began his energybending training with Yue."
"What dream?" Sokka asked quizzically.
"It was another past life dream – I was about to fight a great enemy. It was just like it said on the tablet. I..."
Aang's answer was cut short as he was forced to leap out of the way as a jet of scorching bright red flame shot toward him. He rolled to the ground and did a somersault, landing in a kneeling position and facing toward the assailant. There was a female firebender wearing flexible Fire Nation garments and sporting a prominent headpiece which appeared to be brand new.
"Looks like we got company," said Sokka.
"Well, things will be less boring now," Mai shrugged while reaching for her stilettos.
Everyone was now in a fighting stance. They had been caught off guard by the sudden attack – especially Migo, but now they were all vigilant and prepared.
"Stand down," Aang declared to her. "Its eight against one."
The woman merely smirked and positioned herself to firebend again.
"Azula?" said Ty Lee, bewildered.
She did not answer her. "Where is my brother? Where is the Fire Lord?"
Migo loosened up slightly. "Oh, you mean Zuko? He got a messenger hawk earlier and said he had to go back to the Fire Nation. I expect he's halfway back to the Capital by now."
Toph furiously smacked Migo in the chest with her elbow. "Don't tell her that you idiot!"
"Sorry, she asked a question and well...I answered it."
"Haha, thanks farm boy! That's what I wanted to know." And with that the hostile firebender pushed flames toward the ground, blasting herself in the air and out of their reach.
Toph punched Migo again and threw him twenty feet into the air with an Earth Column. "How can you be so careless and stupid!? If she goes after Zuko now, its your fault!"
"Calm down," Suki uttered to Toph. "It will be okay. She'll never reach Zuko before he's at the palace – and he has plenty of protection there. Also, I think he can handle her if he had to."
"Don't forget that this is Azula we're talking about," Katara noted. "We can't forget what she can do."
"She seemed different than I remember," Mai converyed. "I guess it has been twenty years. People do change over time."
"I wouldn't count on her changing all that much," Ty Lee responded skeptically. "Anyways, how did she get out of captivity?"
"I'm not sure..." Aang chimed in. "I don't think it matters, though. I think we're done here. We can put this cave behind us. We'll have plenty of time to deal with Azula later. Katara, when we get back, we can take Appa to the Southern Air Temple to pick up the kids. Then we can come back to Omashu to visit as planned."
Everyone nodded, trusting Aang's judgement. Then they began departing back the way they came. No one spoke for a time, so Aang began to reflect to himself. They say after leaving the cave, everyone leaves a piece of themselves behind. This could be what the "whispers" of the ancients and "opening up" to them meant. Were the voices he heard the voices of other cave visitors? Will he, Aang, have a voice here now for those who follow him to hear? They say people are different when they leave the cave. If he was leaving some of himself behind, was he maybe taking a tiny part of everyone else who ever visited here with him? Brawki had said there were a lot of exaggerations about it. But even if most of it was false, Aang could not deny his own experience here. How did this unnatural place become what it was? If Doru Kun fought an energybender, were there voices of actual energybenders here? Was it maybe energybending at work here, that made this cave what it was? The way that the cave worked and the way that energybending worked did not seem all that different from one another, now that Aang thought about it.
It would be convenient if he was able to ask Roku about all this
Fire Nation Royal Palace
Meanwhile, Zuko had just gotten back to his home in the Fire Nation Capital. He was hurrying through the corridors of his palace toward the War Room. He did not want to waste a single second.
On the way there, Neinei emerged before him and rushed to greet him. "Dad you're back. Is mom back too?"
Zuko, however, halted her at arms length. "Away, Neinei. I have official business to attend to." Whatever it was that awaited him, Zuko did not want to involve her in any way. Leaving his surprised daughter behind him, he strode into the War Room.
As he entered, all of his advisers were already waiting for him. The Fire Lord's top generals were present. Zuko could not help but notice that one was giving him an unusually dirty look. As he took his seat up front Zuko conjured his ceremonial Fire Lord flames across the platform.
"Welcome, Fire Lord," Chan greeted him with a bow in his typical tuneless voice.
"Dispense with the pleasantries," Zuko howled irritably. "Get to the point of this meeting. Give me the briefing."
"Well, there has been more unrest than before," Chan continued awkwardly. "Quite a lot actually – especially in the last 24 hours. The riots in Hukow have gotten much worst. In fact...we've completely lost control of the city."
"That is a setback indeed. Is that all?"
"There have also been similar incidents all across the land," General Mongke added. "Zhao Jr. escaped from prison four days ago and there are rumors that Princess Azula may have as well. As a result, we have tightened the already-ample security for former Fire Lord Ozai. All of this is an obvious source of concern. Open rebellion may be upon us soon."
Zuko was alarmed. "Zhao escaped four days ago?! Why wasn't I notified sooner?"
"Apologies, good sir," came the voice of Chan. "Things have been quite hectic around here..."
The general who Zuko had noticed with an unkindly expression on his face earlier spoke up. "The reactions of the populace are understandable. The mistreatment of Fire Nation subjects citizens abroad had been added to the list of issues the rioters want addressed. Just yesterday a firebender was training in the small valley where his town is located. It was the same as he has done for over forty years and he was not harming any others in the process. But this time he was arrested and is now facing criminal trial because his home town has passed a law forbidding firebending."
"That is unfortunate," Zuko agreed. "But since the colonies were ceded back to the Earth Kingdom fifteen years ago all Fire Nation expatriates choosing to live abroad have been subject to the laws of their area. That treaty applies here, however unjust it may seem."
"That is final!" he snapped.
The general sat down, glaring up at the man who was his formal superior with resentment.
"Well, now that that's out of the way," War Minister Chan went on. "The crisis in Hukow must be dealt with before it escalates more. It cannot be allowed to spread further, especially with the famines. I advise dealing with the resistance in the swiftest possible manner. Sire, I know your sentiments on this, but I strongly believe that this is the only option left."
Zuko began to ponder this. He hated to admit it, but he could not ignore what Chan was pressing upon him. "Very well."
"Sir!" said General Mongke in alarm. The other faces around the room began to reflect him. They had little respect for Chan and seemed shocked at their esteemed leader siding with him now.
"But..." one of the older ones began.
"No buts," Zuko declared decisively. "My subjects always come first, but these actions cannot be allowed. We must preserve order. A division of our strongest firebenders and warriors will be sent to Hukow. There, they will do whatever is necessary to crush the resistance." This was quite an aggressive response and he had a feeling his friend the Avatar might not approve. However, as Fire Lord, Zuko had to do what had to be done. And if he did not do something, everything that they had fought for would be lost. "Through this, we shall bring peace and prosperity back to the people of the Fire Nation." The words felt bitter and hollow in his throat. It reminded him of his great-grandfather Sozin's philosophy of spreading peace and prosperity through violence.
Suddenly, the same general who glared at him before stood up. It was considered extremely disrespectful to do this in the Fire Nation in the presence of the Fire Lord without being called upon – especially when the Fire Lord was speaking. The general narrowed his eyes and stared at Zuko angrily.
Zuko paused in the middle of his speech. "Why are you standing up? Respect your Fire Lord!"
"No. I will not play a part of this sham any more. This isn't the Fire Nation I served when I enlisted. Hukow happens to be where I'm from. Those people are right. You have failed us as a leader. Worst of all, you let the Earth Kingdom walk all over us. The Earth Kingdom is nothing compared to the Fire Nation. Those miserable Earth dwellers should be thanking us for not burning their land to a crisp!"
Fire Lord Zuko was bewildered at such an absurd statement. "We would have burned their land if Avatar Aang had not intervened. After a hundred years of warfare, peace comes at a price."
The general's eyes widened. "I was right the first time I met you. You don't belong here. I was the guard who wouldn't allow you to pass when you came to the War Room as a young prince. And when your shameful uncle intervened, your father burned your face just like you deserved! Ozai was our true leader. You're a pathetic joke."
As Zuko rose his flames high in response and removed his formal robes in preparation of a violent confrontation, two other generals on either end of the one that spoke also rose defiantly to their feet.
"You're a failure...Prince Zuko," the general finished.
"Oh dear..." Chan began, cowering into a corner.
Zuko lowered his flames and leaped over them. But as he did, the general to the left of him pullec out a vial containing a clear liquid which he heated by firebending through the arm which clutched it. Smoke filled the room, obscuring everything from view. Zuko shifted his stance intently as he attempted to locate the disloyal generals. He was careful, not wishing for the remaining advisers to be maimed in the process.
When the smoke cleared a minute later, Zuko rotated his sweaty head peering throughout the room. All were still in the same posture as before, save the three who had showed their unfaithful convictions to him.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The order in which the elements are listed at Doru Kun's Shrine – "master earthbender, master firebender, master airbender, master waterbender" – is the Avatar Cycle. Since Doru Kun is an Earth Kingdom Avatar, Earth was listed first and Water last.
- Although there has been trouble for the last few chapters, it is as of this one that the Fire Nation is officially in a state of civil war.
- The fire that was shot at Team Avatar was red, not blue. That is not a mistake.
For the collective works of the author, go here.